Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and Department of Transportation Proactively Deploy 216,000 Sandbags and Multiple Sandbaggers
State Agencies on Alert, Ready to Assist Any Communities Impacted by Rising Water Levels
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has directed State agencies to begin deploying resources to protect communities along the shores of Lake Ontario from potential flooding that could result from the lake's rising water levels. Following severe flooding in Canada, the International Joint Commission continues to reduce outflows of water from the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River in an effort to minimize impacts, as the lake's water level currently sits at more than one foot above average. With precipitation forecasted for the northeast in the coming days and no word on when outflows will be increased, Governor Cuomo is ensuring localities have access to the resources they need by taking these proactive measures.
"After waters on the Lake Ontario coastline rose to the highest levels in 20 years in 2017 resulting in devastating impacts to the shoreline, we know the importance of taking proactive steps to prevent potential flooding in the region," Governor Cuomo said. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are deploying these resources to protect Lake Ontario's shoreline communities and mitigate rising water levels."
Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo wrote to the International Joint Commission requesting that it maximize outflows from the Lake Ontario system to prevent the flooding that thousands of New Yorkers grappled with in 2017. Since then, water levels have remained higher than average and are expected to increase in the coming weeks, necessitating the proactive deployment of state resources to the region to protect homeowners and businesses from potential flooding.
The State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has begun coordinating regular preparedness calls with local partners, and is staging critical response and recovery assets along the lake's shores to mitigate potential impacts of flooding before it occurs. Already, a total of 216,000 sandbags have begun to be deployed to strategic sites in Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne Counties. The Division is also prepared to deploy 6,771 feet of aquadam to protect shoreline properties if needed.
Experts from the Department of Environmental Conservation continue to monitor data and reports from the IJC on water level projections to identify potential areas that could be impacted by rising levels. In addition, DEC Permit staff are prepared to assist municipalities or property owners with any necessary permits to ensure authorizations are provided to make necessary repairs or to stabilize their properties from high water levels and wind-driven high wave events. Since the high water event in 2017, DEC issued over 3,000 permits for emergency actions and shoreline protection measures to address impacts of high water levels along the Lake Ontario, Lower Niagara River and St. Lawrence River shorelines.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is currently providing two 12-man work crews made up of eligible incarcerated individuals to fill sand bags. A crew from Willard Drug Treatment Center is working at the State DOT facility in Sodus, NY. The other crew is filling sandbags at the State DOT facility in Hilton, NY. DOCCS has the capacity to activate six additional work crews in the coming days as needed.
Additionally, the state Department of Transportation, in coordination with work crews provided by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, is overseeing sandbagging operations at its facilities in each of the eight counties that border Lake Ontario. These efforts have already begun in Wayne and Monroe counties, where more than 10,000 sandbags were filled this weekend and are ready for deployment.
Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Todd Westhuis said, "Our dedicated staff is working to ensure pallets of filled sandbags are ready and available in each of the communities that may be affected by rising water levels along the shoreline. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, our agency is fully prepared and stands ready to assist our local partners in government in responding to flood-related issues along local roads, bridges, culverts and drainage systems."
Acting New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Patrick A. Murphy said, "Unfortunately, the threat of severe flooding has become a new reality over the past several years for the communities lining the shores of Lake Ontario. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York is more prepared to address natural disasters than ever before. Our emergency management experts have been in constant communication with our local partners and stand ready to assist them in any way we can."
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "DEC staff remain on high alert and stand ready to assist any communities impacted by the rising water levels along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. As our changing climate fuels more of these extreme precipitation and flooding events, Governor Cuomo has made sure New York is prepared and taking steps to improve our coastal resiliency. We will continue to monitor conditions in the area and are ready to respond to any impacts caused by the increasing water levels."
Following 2017's flooding of both Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, which damaged homes, businesses, and local infrastructure, Governor Cuomo and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services coordinated with county and local partners to monitor water levels and deliver resources, including millions of sandbags and the construction of thousands of feet of temporary dams. Additionally, the Governor successfully secured a federal disaster declaration for the counties affected by the flooding, including Monroe and Cayuga Counties, which were initially omitted from the declaration, until the Governor filed an appeal.
The State also made a $95 million commitment to the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Shorelines. The recovery program started with an initial $45 million commitment for aid to residents, small businesses, and municipalities affected by the flood. It was supplemented with two $5 million grants from the State and Municipal Facilities Program to bolster previous relief and provide necessary financial assistance to recovery efforts. The 2018-19 State Budget included an additional $40 million for the recovery program, which continued to support shoreline reconstruction and stabilization, reimbursement for emergency repairs during the flooding and seawall reconstruction.